10 Ways To Recharge Your Law Practice

1.         Clean out the junk.

It’s easy to let our offices become cluttered: our desk is a mess with on-going or half-digested projects, scattered pens, and things on our to-do list that have been perched on the corner of the desk so long green mold has overtaken them.  Clean it up.  Check out my previous blog, My Desk, My Enemy and The Organized Lawyer for tips on how to improve this situation.   I’ve found it particularly helpful to have a place for EVERYTHING.  I line up hanging file folders in my credenza, label each one and drop documents in there to keep my desk tidy.  I try to keep five projects on my desk that I’m actively working on. If my discipline lapses, I put aside time at the end of the week, dump all contents of desk into a huge box and go through each item one-by-one (toss things in the garbage, take other stuff home and keep items I really need to file later on).   Another nifty item that I value as much as my beloved North Face ski jacket:  a ScanSnap.  It allows me to scan and trash paper documents that I don’t use often, but need to refer to later on or preserve, quickly and easily.

2.         Marketing.

Most lawyers have this on their to-do. Nevertheless, they never get around to working on it.  But giving it the time and energy it deserves energizes us because taps into our creativity and invests in our future.  We all need more clients and marketing is an important part of any serious game plan to get them.  Check out these greats blogs on this topic from the Attorney at Work website for more ideas.

3.         Mindfulness.

Mindfulness mediation involves taking a set period of our day to sit in silence and watch our minds as thoughts and feelings roll by without reacting to them.  As lawyers, we’re hammered all day by stress.  It depletes our energy and effectiveness because our brains are knocked off balance by all the moment-to-moment crises, both real and imagined.  Sitting quietly for a proscribed period of time allows us to regroup and refocus.  Check out this article from the ABA Journal, Minfulness in Legal Practice is Going Mainstream.  I do it everyday for 15 minutes. I’m a busy lawyer, just like you.  If I can find the time, so can you.

4.         Exercise.

Everybody knows how important it is for our health.  It clobbers high levels of toxic stress, gives you pep and leaves you less prone to anxiety and depressive disorders.  If you’ve been avoiding the gym or have “fallen off the wagon,” try doing it before work.  I’ve found it’s critical to always keep my gym gear in my truck.  It serves as a constant reminder to hit the elliptical and gives me one less reason (“I don’t have my workout clothes with me”) why I can’t go to the gym.  Check out the excellent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain for further reading on the connection between exercise and our mental health.

5.         Find Meaning.

If you dig hard enough, you can always find meaning in your day-to-day law practice.  Stop thinking of your job solely as a matter of dollars and cents and as much a matter of service to others.  When we don’t do this, we dehumanize our clients and, in the process, ourselves.  It’s all about balance.  You don’t have to forget that law is a business.  But you also shouldn’t forget that your clients are flesh and blood folks with real problems that need your care and attention.    I love this quote from author Studs Turkel: “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

6.         Stop blaming the law for your problems.

This is a big energy sucker. And whining never helps.  Blaming is the opposite of taking responsibility for one’s self: you become a victim of your own life.  Choice empowers us. Complaining disempowers us.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s a question of attitude. I had a friend who blamed the law for all his misery.  So, he chucked it all and went back to school to become a teacher.  What happened?  He was unhappy and blamed his dour mood on teaching. The moral of the story?  While it’s true that the practice of law is tough and demanding, our experience of it is greatly influenced by our attitude.  Resolve to have a better one.

7.         Be careful about the company you keep.

Lawyers are known pessimist – they tend to see the worst in everything. Check out this article, Why Lawyers Are Unhappy, by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.  Dump lawyer friends who incessantly gripe about being a lawyer.  If you have to work with them, don’t join in their bitch sessions.  You don’t have to, after all.  You have some choices here. Sit quietly, offer something constructive, or change the subject.  Over my twenty-five years career, I’ve found that hanging out with complaining lawyers that love to bitch about how shitty life is or tear down other people behind their backs leaves me dispirited about life and law.  It’s cancerous.

8.         Enhance your relationship with those you work with.

We snap at co-workers, are dismissive of their needs and don’t treat them with the respect and thoughtfulness they deserve.  As a consequence, we don’t get much good energy in return.  Would it take much time to get your secretary a cup of coffee in the morning?  Small acts of kindness count in life. How about stopping whatever you are doing to actually listen to a co-workers problem and not check your e-mails or texts on your cell phone? When people do this to me, I find it rude. Being considerate to others goes a long way!

9.         Find pleasure outside of work

Lawyers bark they don’t have time to do neat things after work or on the weekends.  When we talk about importance of the work/life balance, this is what mean.  For me, I’ve found it with blogging and volunteering at a wonderful place called St. Luke’s Mission in a poor section of Buffalo.  I find these things not only meaningful, but also pleasurable.  Silliness is also good tonic for all the seriousness that ails us.  And lawyers are an all too grim-faced bunch. I finally got around to going to a new indoor go-kart track they recently built at our mall. Frivolity is a good thing!

10.      Get more sleep.

We neglect sleep at our own peril. In fact, we’re a country of sleep-deprived people. Our bodies evolved to need a minimum amount of sleep and lawyers don’t get enough.  Perhaps their bodies are too jacked up with stress or they can’t stop ruminating about their law practice.  Recent research indicates that a lot of depression’s worst symptoms (lack of concentration, chronic fatigue, etc.) are deeply influenced by poor sleep.  Maybe you need a sleep study to get to the bottom of what ails you in this department.  Take care of this and you’ll be in a better position to wake up refreshed and ready to charge through your day.

 

 

Overwhelmed? 8 Tips to Avoid Burnout and Balance Your Life

For so many people these days, our life is like a house of cards. We teeter along shakily, just barely managing to hold up our sky-high pile of commitments and stressors. Sometimes it feels (accurately) that if you try to put just one more card on top, the whole mess will come crashing down. It’s not a good feeling. It’s not a fun way to live. Yet it’s normal for most of us. And we’re exhausted.

One of the things I remember most from the psychology courses I took in university is the classic Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. These researchers examined medical records to determine the relationship between life events and the likelihood of getting sick. They ranked the 43 most stressful life events, assigning points to each based on the potential negative impact on health.

Some of the stressors are thankfully rare, such as death of a spouse (#1) and imprisonment (#4). But others are much more common, such as divorce (#2), marriage (# 7 – positive life events can be stressful!), change in health of a family member (#11), business readjustment (#15), change in financial state (#16) and even things we dream of, such as outstanding personal achievement (#25).

I recently went through a series of life shifts, some really wonderful and some more challenging. I held up pretty well for a while, but eventually started to feel a lot more moody, tired, and just plain overwhelmed. Whenever I go through a transitional season like this I’m always grateful for those early psych courses and my awareness of “The Life Events Scale”.  Too much change, too many demands, and eventually the human mind and body will cave in under all the pressure.

This has happened enough times now that I know what to do to get myself, my health, and my sanity back. If you’ve got too much change (or just too much, period) going on in your life, here are some tips to get yourself and your life back, ASAP:

1) Get the best sleep you can

If you’re stressed out, getting enough sleep should be your number one priority. Give yourself time to wind down before going to bed, and create the quietest, darkest sleeping space possible (my husband and I use black-out curtains, ear plugs, and white noise from the bathroom fan to block out street sounds). The more stressed out we are, the earlier we try to get to bed.

2) Meditate or pray in the morning

I normally spend quiet time in meditation every morning, but the numerous recent changes in my life had made it hard to maintain my old routine. I felt unhinged, and quickly felt so much better when I forced myself to find a few quiet minutes every morning again. Sitting for just five minutes, breathing deeply in and out, has been shown to create a sense of calm (and even lower blood pressure!) that lasts throughout the day.

3) Make yourself eat, no matter how crazy things are

The more stressed I am, the more I try to do before breakfast (and breakfast often ends up eaten at lunchtime). Skipping meals and snacks leads to low blood sugar, fatigue and brain fog, making you feel unable to cope. Discipline yourself to get some real food into your mouth as soon as you get up – you’ll feel much calmer, clearer and more focused. Make sure you eat throughout the day and don’t let yourself ever get too hungry. Don’t ignore your body’s cues for needing food and water, no matter how busy you are.

4) Load up on greens the easy way

I get a physical and psychological boost from superfoods, as I know how much my body appreciates them when stressed. I try not to go a day without the simple green smoothie I make in my blender, it takes less than five minutes to make and less than a minute to drink.

5) Get through one day at a time

As the ancient saying goes: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” When life is particularly stressful, it really helps to just focus on getting through each day. I use my morning quiet time to get centered and ready to face the day, and that day alone. Life feels so much easier when you face it one day at a time.

6) Make no your default answer

I read a great blog post from Paul Angone the other day called “Stop Trying to Balance Your Life”. His thesis was that our fundamental problem isn’t our inability to balance it all, it’s overcommitment. I totally agree. I’ve written about this before: when you say yes to something new, you say no to something else. (see my previous post on Saying No) There isn’t an infinite amount of time available to you. When you say that yes it will mean something really important will be squeezed out: that time alone you desperately need, or that extra hour of sleep that would make all the difference, or the precious time with your spouse or kids that you all long for.

7) Take sanity breaks

Lose the go-go-go mentality, it will kill you. Take breaks whenever your body or mind start to feel tired. Have a snack. Get up and do some stretches. Rest your brain. Take your lunch outside and sit by a fountain with the sun on your face (I did that the other day, it felt so good). You need breaks, don’t tell yourself that you’re better off just plowing through.

8) Give yourself a Sabbath day every week

In this 24-7 world we live in, it’s easy to treat every day as another opportunity to tick off to-do list items. For a long time now I’ve saved my sanity by taking Sundays off, no matter how busy my life is. Whenever I’m tempted to work because I’m feeling panicked about some upcoming deadline, I remind myself that in the past I’ve somehow always gotten done what needed to be done, even if I’ve taken a day off.

One day a week, try to avoid doing anything that feels like work. Turn off your phone. Don’t go online. Take a nap. Read a good book. Spend some time with your family and friends. Go for a walk together. This day of rest and rejuvenation will refresh you and give you the energy you need to face the trenches yet again for another week. And you will still somehow get everything done.

Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer, and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7  Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, dedicated to helping people worldwide get healthy, find happiness and enjoy more meaningful lives that they love. 

Copyright Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. 2013

Depressed, Then Sleepless? Or Vice-Versa?

The official code for psychiatric diagnosis indicates that insomnia is a symptom of depression. This implies that depression causes a disruption of the normal sleep process. However, sensitive clinicians have long noted that sleep changes often precede mood shifts, both toward depression, and, in the case of bipolar disorder, toward hypomania or mania. Surely we are looking here at a bidirectional process in which the two problems are linked, perhaps by way of an underlying cause.

The hot news this week is that a combination of talk therapy for insomnia and antidepressant drugs can relieve depression better than either one alone.

Specifically, the therapy concentrates on encouraging patients to regularize wake-up times, resist daytime napping, and avoid nighttime TV/computer time.

sleep guy

The researchers had their depressed patients keep records of when they got in bed to try to sleep, when they actually fell asleep, how often they became alert in the middle of the night, and when they finally woke up.

But what is actually happening before patients start following the new rules, and what changes as a result?

1.   Light exposure in the late evening, at the start of our desired sleep period, tells the brain’s inner clock to shift later, thereby delaying sleep onset – in other words, “causing insomnia.” Without artificial lighting that extends the day – laptop screens are major villains – our circadian rhythm issues its sleep-onset signal earlier in the evening.

2.   When we fall asleep later, we create a pressure to sleep later the next morning. Bedroom curtains that shut out the early morning light encourage sleeping in, but we need that light to keep our inner clock in sync with the outside world. During the workweek, the alarm clock helps us fight this pressure, but we pay for it with daytime fatigue – and yes, even depression if we’re in that vulnerable group. We might succumb to napping, especially early evening napping when we get home from work. We try to make up for it on weekends by sleeping in, going against the therapy principle of regular sleep schedules. This has the effect of further denying us early morning light exposure, and allowing our inner clock to shift more out of sync.

3.   Napping in the latter part of the day – which happens because we don’t get enough nighttime sleep – uses up a protein in the brain that is responsible for the restorative feel of a good night’s sleep. Two results: it’s harder to fall asleep, and what sleep we get is less restorative than we need, further fueling daytime fatigue and blue mood.  Cutting out these late-in-the-day naps has an obvious benefit.

INDIRECT VS. DIRECT THERAPY

The new research shows that you are less likely to lie in bed for hours wishing for sleep, and then suffer disturbed, unrefreshing sleep if you take these behavioral measures. They work by indirectly adjusting the brain’s circadian rhythm toward its normal state. However, taking direct measures to shift the inner clock into sync with optimum sleep time might considerably strengthen the therapeutic impact. We’re talking about light therapy (in the morning) and light reduction (in the evening). These are simple home treatments that can reduce reliance on both antidepressant meds and sleeping pills.

sleepy woman

How do we standardize morning wake-up time? Two methods: bedroom dawn simulation and post-awakening bright light therapyOur recent paperback explains how to set this up.  Better to use nature’s morning alerting signals than yield to the aversive alarm clock, which can interrupt your sleep just as you’ve fallen into your final dream period of the night.

A simple way to standardize sleep onset is to reduce specific kinds of light that have an activating effect just as you’re hoping to calm down. You don’t have to turn off all the lights or dim them to uncomfortable levels to allow the circadian sleep signal to do its work. Rather, you should adjust your lamps – and TV and computer screens – to cut down on the shortest wavelengths of white light (the violet, indigo and blue) that tell the inner clock to shift later, thereby delaying the sleep onset signal. In technical terms, we want to shop for bulbs rated at 2700 or 3000 Kelvin, rather than the higher levels that supposedly mimic daylight.

In combination, these morning and evening light regimens are energizing and antidepressant, so you feel less urge to nap. In case of an occasional afternoon slump, even a brief supplementary light therapy session – at work or at home – can quell the urge.

I am not disparaging the very hopeful news that the combination of antidepressant meds and talk therapy can speed relief from depression. However, I am suggesting that direct control of the inner clock accesses the underlying mechanism, is therapeutic in its own right, and can reduce reliance on drugs.

Michael Terman received his doctoral degree in physiological psychology from Brown University. After years of basic science studies in circadian rhythms and light, he moved to Columbia, where he established a novel outpatient clinic, the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms. In 1994 he founded the nonprofit Center for Environmental Therapeutics, which offers chronotherapy guidance to consumers, patients, and doctors. In 2013, he created the Clinical Chronotherapy Group, which offers patients coordinated chronotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and psychotherapy, according to individual needs. Michael is the coauthor of the 2013 Penguin paperback, Reset Your Inner Clock.

 

 

 

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